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Seiichi's Miscellany 2009


Seiichi
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Completed Books

 

1. Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

2. Them: Adventures with Extremists, Jon Ronson

3. Farewell Waltz, Milan Kundera

4. The Outsider, Albert Camus

5. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

6. In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating, Michael Pollan

7. Imprimatur, Monaldi & Sorti

8. The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton, Michael Collins

9. The Memory Artists, Jeffrey Moore

10. This Thing of Darkness, Harry Thompson

11. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exup

Edited by Seiichi
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It's not a bad book. I managed to read around a third of the book before giving up. It certainly invokes a lot of raw emotion---the kind born out of the outrage caused by a grave injustice. It's simply not my cup of tea. Hopefully someone else will have better luck when I offer it up in a book chain.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Following the death of his mother Lydia, Edmund returns to the family home. There he finds the remnants of the family he left behind: his older brother, sister-in-law, and niece---a dysfunctional family no longer in communication with each other, each living out a confused existence. Having escaped the poisoning influence of Lydia many years ago, the expectation is that Edmund will be able to bring some semblance of good back into the lives of the family. Unwilling, and powerless to do anything of use, Edmund is dragged into the family's scandalous affairs. Among the chaos, the only person he finds unchanged is the Italian Girl, the former nurse to the brothers, who has silently witnessed the disintegration of the family.

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It's not late, but Teena Maguire and her daughter decide to head home from a hot and heady Fourth of July party. They leave the heat of the crowd and take the cooling walk home through the park. Teena feels uneasy. A group of boys catch sight of the pair from across the lake. The boys scent blood. They tease Teena, chase her and corner her in front of her daughter.

 

Rape begins with what is almost unspeakable and tells of the brutality and cowardice that overtakes a small town in the aftermath of the attack. A diamond-hard dissection of modern mores, this is not only the story of Teena and Bethie and their insolent assailants but also the tale of their silent champion---a man who knows the meaning of justice. And love.

 

The book is a retrospective look at events from the perspective of the twelve-year old daughter, now grown up with some normalcy returned to her life. A matter-of-fact tone is used to tell events as if Bethie is trying to distance herself from them. Once the three main characters are introduced, the rest of the book---from the way the plot unfolds to the reactions of characters in the story---is more or less predictable. For the informed reader, there are no surprises in store. The only thing the book does is state the issues involved and the need to ensure the protection and welfare of victims of crime.

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Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight? In Hero and Leander, Marlowe philosophises about the nature of love. Love, if it is real, is involuntary. To decide to love someone is not to love them. "Love at first sight" is a subject that fascinates Bron, who is attempting to write a book he has called The Book of True Love. It's as much a personal undertaking as something he's been commissioned to write. His sentiments echo Marlowe's. His previous relationships have fizzled, leaving him feeling that there must be something more. What he needs is, to break the cycle of doomed relationships, to experience that involuntary feeling that overcomes reasoning: in short, to fall in love. And then it happens... A brief encounter with a beautiful stranger sees him experience for the first time love---love at first sight.

 

Flora, the target of his affections, is elusive, at times receptive to his advances, but ultimately evasive, warning him away from her. Bron contemplates the nature of love, deviating from his original research. Hoping to convince Flora to accept him---and to accept love---he enters into a "trial of love", where he attempts to defend the truth of his feelings.

 

Is it possible to fall in love at first sight? As far as Bron is concerned, following his encounter with Flora, it is, yet is this the true love that he seeks? The question lingers throughout the book. Bron, blinded by his feelings, loses sight of the questions he originally intended to pose---questions concerning Paul Marotte, a doctor who, after himself experiencing the phenomenon, turned artist, making his own experience the focus of his art. What was the doctor's state of mind when he saw his wife for the first time? What was it about her that he found so enrapturing? Did the circumstances of his life influence his feelings? The same questions can be asked of Bron, which makes his trial all the more difficult. Flora is the type of woman who easily attracts the attention of men. To win her heart, Bron must prove to her that he is different, and that his love is not borne from impulse---that he is not clinging to the same feeling he experienced when he first met her, but has allowed his feelings to mature over time.

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On his return journey home one morning, Lord Geoffroy Loveall comes across a newborn child and recues it from the waste heap. The child is a blessing to the eccentric and heirless Geoffroy. His cousins, the Osberns, await the end of the Loveall line, ready to inherit the title and fortune of England's richest family---a distasteful prospect. This child, which fortune has presented him, will be his sole heir.

 

There is another reason why the child is such a blessing to him. He has never recovered form the trauma of losing his younger sister, Dolores, at an early age. Now he has been given a child whom he can love with the same devotion he showed his sister. In honour of Dolores, Geoffroy names the child Rose Old. There is one problem, however: this new girl of his is not a she but a he. Fearing for their master's health, the loyal servants of Love Hall decide to keep this a secret from Geoffroy until such time that he is able to handle the truth.

 

----

 

I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter. It seemed to take the author a long time just to narrate a simple sequence of events. This was a problem that resurfaced halfway through the book and I found myself either speed reading or skimming over passages that didn't seem to convey any important information. That's not to say that this book is a bad book---it simply suffers in places where the writer could have been more terse. As a first novel, this is a commendable effort and I would not be put off reading any more of his novels.

 

The main focus of the first half of the novel is concerned with Rose's early childhood and the strangeness she feels as she observes the similarities difference between himself and her friends. Having been kept in ignorance of both sexes, she must deal with the problems of her growing sexuality on her own by observing others, but this only adds to her confusion.

 

As can be expected, it is only so long that the secret of her true gender can be kept. With the passing of Geoffroy, Rose becomes the next Lord Loveall, and must adjust to acting as a male, his idyllic and carefree childhood now behind him. As if dealing with his own sexuality isn't enough, he must now deal with the invasion of his home by the Osberns, who are now determined to take advantage of his circumstances to sieze control of the Loveall estate. The second half of the novel deals with how Rose comes to terms with who he is and how he attempts to protect the Loveall estate from the Osberns. This second half takes a little perseverance, and I found myself speeding through some of the passages, but in the end the perseverance pays off. It doesn't quite live up to the expectations you'd feel from reading the blurb, but it's nonetheless a decent first novel.

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Kiev militia lieutenant Viktor Slutsky investigates the puzzling death of a distinguished genereal and presidential adviser, whose body was sent skywards on an advertising balloon. KGB officer Nik Tsensky is brought from distant Tadzhikistan to Kiev for a secret mission. Their quests, related at first in alternate chapters, ultimately convege. At stake are KGB billlions salted away somewhere in Europe, which Ukraine is bent on seizing for itself. Investigation and mission run a picaresque course through many countries. A larger-than-life hitman, bombs under furniture, a hearse, a deaf-and-dumb blonde, a tortoise, a parrot, and a backfiring automatic all play a part. Kurkov introduces the reader to a militia and a KGB not seen before in Western fiction.

I thought this one suffered a bit because neither of the two main characters felt as fleshed out as the protagonists in Kurkov's other books. It's trademark Kurkov: a light read with comical elements. Not as good as Death and the Penguin or my favourite Kurkov novel, A Matter of Death and Life, but still a decent way of passing time.

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I thought this one suffered a bit because neither of the two main characters felt as fleshed out as the protagonists in Kurkov's other books. It's trademark Kurkov: a light read with comical elements. Not as good as Death and the Penguin or my favourite Kurkov novel, A Matter of Death and Life, but still a decent way of passing time.

 

Oh I enjoyed Death and the penguin and have penguin lost to start. I didn't really feel attracted to The case of the generals thumb tbh. Have you heard of his new one due out sometime this year - The good angel of death? I'm REALLY looking forward to that one! :)

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In 1920s New Orleans, Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies suddenly in an accident. Immediately after her death, she chooses to stay beween a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it. From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the story of her lost love, and life, as well as the relationship of Amy and Scott, a young couple whose house she haunts seventy years later. Their trials finally compel Razi to slowly unravel the mystery of what happened to her first and only love, Andrew, and to confront a long-hidden secret.

 

It has never occurred to me that the word "between" could make me cringe, but this book has shown me that this is possible. Perhaps it's the rationalist in me that so objects to part of this story---the story of a ghost that exists between the living and "beyond", wherever that may be. The story of Amy and Scott, which occupies around a third of the book is compelling enough, but seemed contrived. The subject matter concerning the breakdown of their relationship deserves a weightier treatment than playing second fiddle to a ghost's story, which I found both tiresome and unconvincing.

 

The problem with Ravi's story is that there's little tension holding it together. Her memories shift between her early memories and her love affair with Andrew with little coherence. Then there are her encounters with the others that are "between", which serve very little purpose. There's Lionel, who encourages Ravi to break the rules in her quest to discover what happened to Andrew. The encounters are few but it is difficult to erase the feeling of pointlessness once you've made that conclusion about one of them. Add to this the sometimes unbelievable manner in which the ghosts and their powers are portrayed and the justification of their reappearance becomes weaker. These are ghosts that can write letters and mail them; use computers, but also damage electrical equipment because of the electromagnetic disturbances they produce; touch and move objects but not each other; etc.

 

Ravi's reminiscences gain some coherence as she begins to recount how she met Andrew and how their relationship developed. They are made for each other---that much is obvious from the start. Their story is more or less standard: two love birds, both with aspirations, facing a future apart as they prepare for college. In seventy years, the most Ravi does to track down Andrew is write letters to the surviving relatives of Andrew's former housekeeper. She makes little progress---no surprise there...but the plot elements are so convenient that Ravi's search comes to a satisfactory end---satisfactory for Ravi, but not necessarily so for the reader.

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Masterpiece tells the remarkable story of celebrated Brit-artist Esther Glass, who audaciously puts herself up for sale by auction at Sotheby's as a living masterpiece, to be owned by the highest bidder for a week. For each day of her 'possession', Esther will perform as one of seven iconic woman, themselves the subjects of great paintings from the past --- Christina of Denmark by Hobein, Olympia by Manet, Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael, Madame de Senonnes by Ingress, Mrs Leyland by Whistler, Isabelle d'Este by Leonardo da Vinci, and Judith and Holofernes by Klimt.

 

A savvy media icon and seasoned global traveller, Esther begins an extraordinary art adventure that takes her to major European galleries and the Frick in New York to research her seven selected masterpieces. Once sold, she returns to Manhattan for her week of ownership. There she is forced to confront financial corruption by her dealers, the instability of her relationship with her lover and, on her return to London, her own core values as an artist, daughter and woman.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The idea is interesting, and Miranda Glover seems to be at her best when discussing art. Unfortunately, the narrator of the story is Esther, and it is testing to read the thoughts of a self-obsessed artist, propelled into celebrity status. Esther's personal problems are of her own making, a result of a past that she intends to keep secret. She hides behind her artwork, unwilling to face her problems face on, and it's this tendency to skirt around the issues, instead attributing them to others, that makes it difficult to like her...initially. Her celebrity status attracts the usual problems: having to deal with the gutter press who would love for her to fail (how endearing the British press can be!) and, as can be expected from the dumbing down culture prevalent today (in this case, a swipe at the Today programme from BBC Radio 4), intrusion into her private relationship as if it has any bearing on her current project.

 

Her work on the Possession series does make Esther reflect on her own life. There are qualities in her subjects that she can identify with, the only exception perhaps being the Madonna with her motherly qualities. For me, learning about the women behind the paintings and how their lives fit in with the theme of possession is what drove the first part of the novel as I got to grips with Esther's character. Through Esther and her flashbacks, Miranda Glover makes an important point about art: it is only when you understand the concept underlying a work and view it in its proper context that you can appreciate it. This comes through well in the book. It is interesting to see how Esther's ideas and concepts for her performances are shaped, and it is possible to develop an appreciation for her masterpiece; but when each piece is viewed independently of each other, and the artist's intentions are unclear, it's easy for the viewer to feel underwhelmed by the work. This reminds me of something that is said in The Trial of True Love: when viewing a gallery, you get more out of the experience when you know what you are looking for and are not distracted by anything else. In this case, her work is intended to be viewed as a collection with a unifying theme. With this in mind, despite the lukewarm (and sometimes hostile) reactions to her individual performances (the viewers had no idea what they were watching), it's possible to believe that Esther's final exhibition of the Possession series might be successful.

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It is the year 1665. Ever since the declaration of 1666 as the Year of the Beast, the religious have been in a state of anxiety, for the end of the world approaches. It is said that their only hope of salvation lies within an obscure book known as The Hundredth Name. The Koran speaks of ninety-nine names of God, but it is believed that The Hundredth Name contains an additional name which, when uttered, allows the invoker to call upon His protection.

 

When asked about the book, curio merchant Balthasar Embriaco attempts to persuade his customers that in all likelihood it does not exist. Everything changes when he is unexpectedly given the book. He finds himself selling it even before he has had the chance to glimpse its contents or ascertain its authenticity. Persuaded by his elder nephew Boumeh, he leaves for Constantinople in the hope of retrieving the book. Events conspire against him and he finds himself travelling his journey further afield. In an age of religious and political anxiety he meets all sorts, from religious fanatics and madmen to those who retain their own sense of rationalism.

 

Among the believers in the coming apocalypse is Boumeh, who is single-minded in his pursuit of the book. Although a non-religious Christian and a healthy skeptic, Balthasar is weak-willed: logic is overridden by anxiety, and he finds his skepticism gently eroded by the murmurings of doomsayers. Against his own advice, and feeling the anxieties spread by the religious maniacs, he finds himself looking for signs that are not there. It's a shame that Balthasar is reduced to using mysticism to explain events, disregarding the sage words of the people he meets on his journey.

 

On his journey he falls in love with people and places. It is as if the journey has allowed him to live for the first time, experiencing never-felt passions and succumbing to the brash decisions of youth. His journey concludes in guilt and regret about what has happened and what could have been. Little is resolved satisfactorily and the people important to Balthasar disappear. In the end, despite everything he has been through, Balthasar remains unchanged as a person, as if he had been a passive observer all along---a prodigal son making his way back home in a confused world.

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